Understanding the 5 Types of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, war/combat, or rape or other sexual assault. People with PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger. There are five different types of PTSD that were identified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013.

The 5 types of PTSD and how they manifest in people’s lives

June is PTSD Awareness Month, and it is a good time to learn more about this condition.

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a short-term reaction to a traumatic event. ASD typically occurs within the first month after the event. People with ASD may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the event. They may also feel detached or estranged from others and have difficulty experiencing positive emotions. ASD is considered a risk factor for developing PTSD.

ASD is diagnosed when a person experiences at least 9 of the following symptoms:

  • feeling detached or estranged from others
  • difficulties in experiencing positive emotions
  • intrusive, unwanted thoughts about the event
  • avoidance of people, places, activities, objects, or situations that remind them of the event
  • negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
  • hypervigilance (increased awareness of dangers)
  • exaggerated startle response
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping

If symptoms last longer than one month, a diagnosis of PTSD may be given.

Uncomplicated PTSD

Uncomplicated PTSD is the most common type of PTSD. It is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms for more than one month after a traumatic event. People with uncomplicated PTSD may have flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the event. They may also feel detached or estranged from others and have difficulty experiencing positive emotions.

Symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD include:

  • feeling detached or estranged from others
  • difficulties in experiencing positive emotions
  • intrusive, unwanted thoughts about the event
  • avoidance of people, places, activities, objects, or situations that remind them of the event
  • negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • irritability or outbursts of anger
  • hypervigilance (increased awareness of dangers)
  • exaggerated startle response
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping

PTSD can also be complicated by the development of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. This is known as comorbid PTSD.

Comorbid PTSD is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms of PTSD and another mental health disorder. The most common mental health disorders that occur with PTSD are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

People with comorbid PTSD may have all of the symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD, plus they may also:

  • feel hopeless or helpless
  • have low self-esteem
  • abuse alcohol or drugs
  • engage in risky or harmful behaviors
  • experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is a type of PTSD that can develop after a person is exposed to multiple traumatic events. It is also sometimes referred to as “disorders of extreme stress not otherwise specified” (DESNOS). Complex PTSD is less well-known than other types of PTSD, but it can be just as debilitating.

People with complex PTSD may have all of the symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD, plus they may also:

  • feel chronically sad or hopeless
  • have low self-esteem
  • abuse alcohol or drugs
  • engage in risky or harmful behaviors
  • experience dissociative symptoms, such as depersonalization or derealization
  • be diagnosed with another mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety

Complex PTSD can be difficult to treat, but there are effective treatments available.

If you think you might have complex PTSD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

Dissociative Subtype

The dissociative subtype of PTSD is characterized by a high level of dissociation. Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of self. People with the dissociative subtype of PTSD may feel detached from their bodies or as if they are watching themselves from outside of their bodies. They may also have difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event.

The dissociative subtype of PTSD is less well-known than other types of PTSD, but it can be just as debilitating. People with the dissociative subtype of PTSD may have all of the symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD, plus they may also:

  • feel detached from their bodies or as if they are watching themselves from outside of their bodies
  • have difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event
  • experience dissociative symptoms, such as depersonalization or derealization
  • be diagnosed with another mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety

The dissociative subtype of PTSD can be difficult to treat, but there are effective treatments available. If you think you might have the dissociative subtype of PTSD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

Somatic Symptom Disorder

Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is a mental health disorder that is characterized by physical symptoms that are not explained by any underlying medical condition. SSD can be caused by a variety of things, including exposure to a traumatic event.

People with SSD may have all of the symptoms of PTSD, plus they may also:

  • experience a high level of anxiety about their physical symptoms
  • believe that their physical symptoms are a sign of a serious medical condition
  • be preoccupied with their physical health
  • avoid activities or situations that they believe may trigger their physical symptoms
  • experience significant distress or impairment in their ability to function in daily life

The somatic symptom disorder can be difficult to treat, but there are effective treatments available. If you think you might have an SSD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

PTSD can be a debilitating condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s life. If you think you may be suffering from PTSD, it is important to seek professional help. There are treatments available that can help you to manage your symptoms and live a full and productive life.